Will A Complicated Birth Affect Breastfeeding?

Maria L. and her baby

Recently, an expectant parent reached out to La Leche League USA about having a potentially complicated birth and whether the birth experience and potential separation immediately after birth could affect the start of breastfeeding.

Kailyn asked, “I’ve had a really complicated pregnancy, and birth looks like it might be complicated, too. I’m worried that baby and I will be separated after birth and that I won’t be able to nurse right away. Is there anything I can do to better prepare? Have other people not nursed right away and still been able to breastfeed?”

Yes, breastfeeding can be affected by complications and/or interventions during birth. While The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding acknowledges that “the more complicated the birth, the harder it may be to get started,” the authors go on to remind readers that the majority go on to successfully breastfeed, even if the start of the nursing relationship does not begin as smoothly as anticipated.

Soon after Kailyn shared her concerns, experienced parents reached out with their own stories of challenging births and how they were able to begin breastfeeding and continue to do so successfully for months and even years.

Support was key to establishing breastfeeding, whether separation lasted hours or days.

Connie W. discovered how important it was to have a supportive health care provider from the start, one who helped her put a plan in place.

“I had an extremely complicated birth (hemorrhaged, needed multiple blood transfusions and surgery, babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit [NICU] for 12 hours, etc.) and was unable to nurse my twins for 24 hours after birth. The key for me was that I had an extremely pro-breastfeeding pediatrician. I had an extensive birth plan, and I was able to make sure they had nothing by mouth until I was able to nurse. Because of this, I was able to exclusively breastfeed until I decided to introduce solids.”

Leeann W. emphasized the importance of La Leche League support.

“I had visions and hopes of what my delivery experience would be, and lots of things were quite different (emergency cesarean and then baby off to the NICU). We were separated for days before I could nurse, but I was able to start pumping right away and get that colostrum. He is now eight months and still nursing fine. Take it all in stride and just keep going. I reached out to my local LLL Leader, and she helped me stay focused.”

When many of these parents experienced separation after birth and weren’t able to immediately begin breastfeeding, they focused on establishing their milk supply and began pumping on a regular basis.

Emily A. shared, “I had an emergency cesarean at 32 weeks and didn’t get to see baby till 2 1/2 days later. He spent a month in the NICU. I started pumping as soon as I could and continued to do so every two hours around the clock. I took my milk to the hospital until he came home. Then we spent the next month or so working on his latch, and he became fully breastfed.”

Maria L. had a similar experience with her son.

“My baby was a NICU baby, and I didn’t get to nurse until he was a week old. I just kept on schedule with pumping every two to three hours and brought my milk to the NICU. He’s one month old now and nurses like a champ despite having a tongue-tie and lip-tie (which is being revised).”

Even if breastfeeding doesn’t begin successfully in the first days after birth, some parents look back now and see the importance of patience and of not giving up.

Genia B. has experienced difficult births twice, and though each birth brought unique challenges, she found that her own determination played an important role in achieving the outcome she wanted, especially when her youngest child wasn’t able to latch well during her time in the hospital.

“(My daughter) never really figured out how to latch at the hospital. I exclusively pumped for eight weeks, but then I decided to put her to the breast. No, she did not just latch and everything was sunshine and rainbows. But within a week we were nursing and not feeding pumped milk. My best advice is this: if you’re persistent and want your baby to get breastmilk then do whatever works for you. All of our journeys aren’t the same. I never thought I’d be exclusively pumping when I had her, but I was also not going to give up on giving her the optimal nutrition of breastmilk. Reach out to whomever you can to get the help you want or need.”

Renae R. also found that achieving her breastfeeding goal took months rather than hours or days. While she was able to breastfeed her son during the first few days, her own medical emergency disrupted the early weeks of their nursing relationship.

“When (my son) was four days old, I had a medical emergency and spent three weeks in the hospital and was separated from him except for one short visit a day. I had to be put on medication that was not safe for breastfeeding. I was able to ‘pump and dump’ for two months while he was on formula, and with the help of a great lactation specialist (virtually) I was able to get him to breastfeed again. We used an (at-breast supplementer) for a few weeks as we transitioned, and by three months he was back to full-time breastfeeding. It was hard, but we are proof that even after a long separation there is hope.”

Mandie S., who is currently nursing her 13-month-old daughter, emphasized the importance of watching for feeding cues once the nursing pair is together again.

“There are things lost with being unable to have an uninterrupted hour of skin-to-skin after birth and baby not doing their own first latch in the first hour, but that doesn’t mean a breastfeeding journey is over! Make sure you have good support around you and always remember to attend to the early feeding cues right away. The more you remove milk, the more milk you make! Frequent feedings are the ticket to a great supply! There is no magic cookie or magic soup and it doesn’t matter how much you eat or drink, it’s all about the frequent milk removals and the hormones baby gets your body to release during a nursing.”

Birth complications and early separations can produce challenges, as these parents discovered. However, these early hurdles don’t have to result in a failed breastfeeding relationship. Breastfeeding may take longer to establish, and it may look different from what you envisioned. Your ability to successfully breastfeed doesn’t disappear if your first attempts are thwarted by unexpected complications, as these parents have shown.


Please send your story ideas to Amy at [email protected].

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